Spinoza's Ethical Theory

Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison (2001)

Ronald Sandler
Northeastern University
This dissertation is a systematic study of Spinoza's ethical system as a virtue ethic. Spinoza's ethical theory has been under-appreciated in this regard and has therefore been virtually ignored by contemporary virtue ethicists who have looked almost exclusively to the ancients as a source of insight regarding the virtues. With my dissertation I aim both to contribute to Spinoza scholarship and to provide an historical resource to contemporary ethicists working in the area of virtue. ;The dissertation can be divided into two parts. The first part, Chapters One thru Four, deals mostly with Spinoza's metaethic and the rudiments of Spinoza's normative ethic. These chapters include a discussion of spinozistic value, the dictates of reason and Spinoza's ethical intellectualism. These chapters lay the foundation for the more explicit discussion of Spinoza's virtue ethic that takes place in Chapters Five thru Seven. In these later chapters I focus on the following questions: To what extent is Spinoza's ethical theory properly a virtue ethic? What is the structure of his virtue ethic? Does it resemble any of the virtue ethics of the ancients? In what sense is, as Spinoza insists, virtue its own reward? Is Spinoza's intellectualist virtue ethic internally cogent? I argue, inter alia, that Spinoza's ethical theory is properly a virtue ethic, that it does differ in interesting ways---particularly methodologically---from most ancient virtue ethics and that Spinoza recognizes three distinct benefits for those who live virtuously. ;In the final chapter I treat what I take to be the central issue regarding the cogency of Spinoza's intellectualist virtue ethic. Does the intellectual state that Spinoza identifies with virtue and advocates cultivating deliver on what it promises in terms of the rewards of virtue? The answer, I argue, is that it does not. However, I further argue that Spinoza's ethical theory is not thereby devastated. There is room for a sympathetic spinozean to remedy this defect. The defect merely reveals that there is significant ethical theorizing, beyond what Spinoza himself provides, that needs to be done
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